• Catherine Dickerman

The five best (and worst) outdoor brands for the planet



It seems obvious that brands that create products for the outdoors pay more attention to environmental impact and sustainability. However, there are clear winners and losers based on criteria such as transparency, activism, sourcing materials, and quality. One of our major sources are CSR (corporate social responsibility) reports that many companies publish on an annual basis. We present to you the five best and worst outdoor brands of 2020.


Legend

A to B+ The company outperforms most of its peers.

B to C+ The company is making efforts to improve and be transparent.

Fail: the company shares no information on the matter.



The Most Bestest







Patagonia is the current leader in outdoor brands in terms of sustainability, manufacturing, transparency, and activism. Notably, the company dedicates 1% of all its profits toward grassroots environmental nonprofits. It provides buyers with lots of transparency and detail about where and how its products are manufactured. It also uses high proportions of eco-friendly materials including recycled polyester, recycled nylon and Tencel. Patagonia also traces most of its supply chain using independent audits. However, Patagonia does not make public its targets for carbon and water reduction.


ACTIVISM

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OVERALL SUSTAINABILITY RATING








Mammut has a very thorough sustainability section on its website with detailed info about ethical production, carbon footprint, animal welfare, and more. Buyers can look at and analyze target reports and more information about where it sources its materials for products. However, there is little evidence that it implements greenhouse gas and water reduction initiatives.


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Black Diamond has a very thorough section on sustainability, outlining specific actions it has taken in terms of advocacy, transportation, energy, recycling, and more. It also lists environmental organizations it supports with information about each one. Black Diamond is not yet rated by Rank a Brand or Ethical Consumer, but it received a failing score (48/100) from CSRHub.It also doesn't appear to publish a CSR, so it is difficult to track its progress.


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OVERALL SUSTAINABILITY RATING







The North Face is open about its goals to be sustainable and clearly outlines its efforts to recycle, use renewable energy, and support environmental organizations. However, the brand isn’t transparent about information on manufacturing and sourcing materials. It has set a target to reduce greenhouse gases in its own operations by 55% by 2030 and reduce emissions in its supply chain by 30% by 2030, but has given little data as to whether it is on track to do so.


ACTIVISM

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Columbia is quite open about the environmental impact of its products. Not only does it provide a “transparency map” on where products are made, but it also lists the specific environmental organizations to which it donates. It measures and reports on its direct and indirect emissions in North America (which excludes most of its manufacturing). Columbia pledged to reduce its carbon emissions but have yet to set a goal or time frame in which to do so despite an otherwise detailed CSR report.


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The More Worser






Arc’teryx’s approach to sustainability focuses on creating high-quality products that will last a lifetime, meaning the buyer won’t have to replace them. It also publicizes its efforts to create less carbon-intensive products, but the language surrounding these goals is quite vague. It hasn't shared any plans to minimize textile waste or implement water reduction initiatives.


ACTIVISM

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While Marmot is clearly making an effort to be more transparent and sustainable by labeling each item with a unique environmental impact rating, the brand doesn’t outline all of its manufacturing and sourcing information and uses vague language when outlining sustainability goals. There is no evidence that it ensures payment of a living wage in the supply chain, and it fails to disclose all its production locations.


ACTIVISM

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Big Agnes talks about sustainability in terms of wanting to do better, but is very vague and doesn’t provide specific steps it takes. It doesn't publish a CSR report or offer any concrete information on carbon reduction targets. Despite this, it does provide a thorough list of environmental organizations it supports.


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Kelty has very limited information about sustainability on its website, and when it does mention it, it uses vague language. While it mentions its goal of “continuous improvement,” it doesn't mention the specific steps it is following to make its products more sustainable.


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Kuhl, like Kelty, mentions sustainability on its website but in very vague language. It loosely outlines its 5 main points on how it wants to be sustainable, but each point doesn’t explain specifically what actions are being taken.

ACTIVISM

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OVERALL SUSTAINABILITY RATING

Do you want a specific product from one of these companies but feel worried about supporting brands that aren’t sustainable? Buying used on Switchbackr allows you to get the product you’re after without adding to your carbon footprint.


Sources:

  1. https://www.theprch.com/sustainable-ethical-brands-guide/sustainability-ratings-outdoor-gear/#kelty

  2. https://directory.goodonyou.eco/

  3. https://www.csrhub.com/